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NEW BREMEN — Voters felt the need for a new K-8 building was “neither clear nor compelling,” according to the results of a community survey issued in April.
The New Bremen Board of Education reviewed the survey results Tuesday night at their regular meeting. Survey Organizer William O’Callaghan said surveys were distributed to the 1,879 residents in New Bremen and 360 were returned for a 19.4 percent response rate, which is higher than the normal 10 percent rate typically observed in mail surveys. The survey, he said, had a margin of error of 5.17 percent, and its confidence level was 95 percent, meaning “95 cases out of 100, the survey results would represent the preferences of all New Bremen School District residents had they all responded to the survey.”
All age groups were well represented in the results, O’Callaghan said, and half of responders had children in the district. Sixty-three percent of responders identified themselves as voting in favor of nearly all school tax issues.
“The significant thing here is nearly 64 percent of people say they support nearly all school tax issues, and this is at least 10 to 15 points higher than in most other districts,” O’Callaghan said. “In most districts, it’s about half the people say they’re willing to support their schools on issues like this. You’ve got a very strong support base for school issues. You also have a very conservative base, where if you’re asking for money, you better justify it.”
O’Callaghan noted most think of New Bremen Local Schools in a positive light, as 59 percent said they had a positive response to the district.
“Most of that, 71 percent of that, was based on we just have a good school system,” he said. “They said it in a lot of different ways, but said ‘We have good schools, excellent schools.’”
Residents have high expectations for the school district, O’Callaghan said, and most respondents noted the small school system and hometown feel the district has as what they like most about New Bremen Local Schools.
“Generally, they think this is a great school district,” he said. “They like the hometown feel, personal attention and all that. In terms of how you can improve, they want you to continue to be good.”
There are several reasons voters did not support the school levy, he said.
“There are lots of reasons, and that’s important,” O’Callaghan said. “There’s more than one reason.”
Seventy-three percent said the money was the reason the levy failed, noting the poor economy, no desire for higher taxes, the cost of building is too high and the fact that the district is still paying for the high school as reasons. Forty-two percent responded that they did not see a need for a new building.
“They don’t perceive the need,” O’Callaghan said. “They think the building we have is OK. Some people don’t understand the need because they didn’t go to some meetings, but they feel that was, next to the tax issue, the major reason people voted against it. This is going to show up again.”
Other reasons cited for the failure of the levy included a view that the district was not managing its money or is wasting its money, 11 percent; the administration was not trusted or was deceptive with the remodeling estimate, 9 percent; and a disapproval of the superintendent hiring process, 4 percent; among others.
Despite the strong vote against the levy, O’Callaghan said there is not a total disconnect between the residents and the board.
“This is a great district,” he said. “I’m impressed with the return, the levels of support. There needs to be a healing process and just sit down and talk it through … Unfortunately, some school districts don’t do this.”
Board President Kami Fox said the board should not pursue a levy at this time.
“We certainly have to have open discussion,” she said. “This is the first that we’ve come together since we’ve seen the results from this and we still need to see. When we see the results from this and we get your thoughts, we definitely are thinking that this is not the time to put that levy back on. Should that decision come to be made, it takes time.”
She thanked residents for turning in the survey and noted the results will be available on the website.
“We want to thank everybody that took the time to put down their concerns,” Fox said. “We are going to make these all available through the website, and we are talking about other ways to communicate with the community so they can see these actual results because we understand that everybody is not going to be able to access the website … We are not interested in hiding this (the results) in any way, shape or form.”
Interim Superintendent John Basinger said the results should be seen by as many residents as possible.
“I think our first goal is to get the results in the hands of everybody so everybody in the community understands that we did go out and do a survey,” he said.
“I think that’s step one, is to get the results out so that everybody sees it and everybody gets on the same page.”
Middle School Principal Howard Overman urged residents to continue the discussion after reviewing the results of the survey.
“Along with that, there has to still be discussion because we’ve got to look at what’s best for our kids,” Overman said. “Structurally over there, there’s things that still need to be done … (O’Callaghan) gave us something to look at, something we can use, but at the same time, there are things we need to do. It may not be this year, but it’s got to be in the near future.”
In other business, board members:
• Accepted a donation from Crown Equipment for $39,600 for support of the Project Lead the Way program and Learning Lab Coordinator.
• Scheduled a board work session for 6 p.m. July 24 in the community room at the high school to further discuss the results of the community survey.
The next regular meeting of the New Bremen Board of Education will be held at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 13 in the community room at the high school.